Increase size
Reset to Default
Decrease size
A Brief History of the WPO

By Ian Pattison

Worcester Philharmonic Orchestra had its origins in an evening class formed by Worcester City Education Authority in the 1950's. It played a wide range of music in its early years, performing with distinction at Music Festivals in Cheltenham and Hereford. The first conductor was Peter Brockway with Arthur Bancroft as leader.

As the Orchestra developed, a committee was set up and, although still under the control of the Education Authority, the Orchestra began to operate more independently, giving many successful concerts during the late 1960s. During the early years, it was instrumental in raising funds towards the building of the Swan Theatre in Worcester where a seat was endowed.

When the Education Authority decided not to offer an orchestral class for the 1972/73 season the membership relaunched as an Orchestral Society at a public meeting on 27th September 1972. The sheet music used by the former evening class was donated to the new Society by the Education Authority and Mr A W Benoy, Worcestershire County Music Advisor, who had guided the formation of the new Society, accepted an invitation to become the first President.

In 1974, John Taylerson, hitherto a member of the brass section, succeeded Peter Brockway as conductor and worked to continue the Orchestra's development and to broaden the repertoire.

In 1977, Bella Holt assumed the role of leader upon Arthur Bancroft's retirement.

In 1980, Eric Holt became conductor and together, the husband and wife team were to guide the orchestra for the next four years. To encourage young people to attend our concerts, Eric hit upon the idea of an afternoon concert to be held for the first time, in the Swan Theatre, and to launch a Young Conductor Competition.

Joan Best succeeded to the post of conductor in 1984. Eric Holt was appointed President at this time following the death of the founder President, Mr Benoy.

Swan Theatre Rehearsal with International Bassist Duncan McTier 1989Swan Theatre Rehearsal with International Bassist Duncan McTier 1989When when Bella Holt retired in 1988, she was succeeded by Sylvia Morris for one year. Karl Hepplewhite assumed the role of leader in 1989.

A fresh chapter opened in 1996 when the members decided to adopt a new Constitution and to change the Orchestra's title to Worcester Philharmonic Orchestra with the aim of continuing the policy of encouraging young soloists to perform concerti through membership of Making Music's Young Artist's Scheme, and other charity agencies.

In 1997, Dr William Boughton graciously consented to become President upon the retirement of Mr Eric Holt.

In 1998, Joan Best retired after 14 years as a conductor and was succeeded by David Curtis as principal conductor with Tommy Pearson as guest conductor. David Curtis retired in the summer of 2000 to be succeeded by Neil Aston.

In 2002 the Ms Patricia Shakesby, accepted the Orchestra's invitation to become a Vice President.

At the conclusion of the 2002/03 season, Karl Heppelwhite retired as leader. Graham Longfils acted as guest leader during the 2003/04 season before being appointed leader for the 2004/05 season.